This game is a blend between the Civilization series and a trading simulation.
The game sees the player being sent as an envoy of one of the four major powers in a quest to settle a new world (which may resemble the Americas or may be randomly generated).
The epoch starts in 1492 and spans indefinitely until the player has completed his goals and claimed independence. The manual claims that the game terminates by 1850, regardless of whether the goal of independence has been won by that date or not. You must declare independence from your initial sponsoring country by 1800 in order to have any chance of winning the game.
The game allows production, trading, and transport of sixteen commodities, in addition to the usual search, build, and grow methodology common to 4X games. The player can choose between four European powers as their home nation. England, France, the Netherlands, and Spain. Each power has a different motive for colonizing the New World and the player receives an advantage in a particular area depending on which is chosen.
Maximum number of colonies
The unstated limitation of 48 colonies may be quite vexing for builder types who wish to create an incredibly extensive empire in the New World. This limitation also allows the computer players to catch up somewhat from a dismal initial start. The computer players can keep building on territory that is unclaimed while the human player is limited to destroying/disbanding one settlement in order to build another elsewhere to take advantage of more useful/more advantageous terrain - but a disbanded colony may be one captured from an enemy then emptied of cargo and colonists, so the outlook is not all bad.
There are limited automation options for movement of materials and units, by Trade Routes and the "Go" command. Sending ships to and from Europe is fairly simple, but the program may cause cargo swapping in the mid-Atlantic and spoil an otherwise good plan. The primitiveness of these systems may have contributed to this otherwise fine variant of Civ remaining relatively unknown and unplayed by even devout Civ fans.
If you're interested in game mechanics, you'll need to crosscheck it with the Colonizopedia. Unfortunately, the Colonizopedia contains a few really awful mistakes (Expert Farmer/Fishermen mod is +2 not +3, minimum population required for some buildings is wrong, etc.).
You start with 2 colonists - a pioneer and a soldier. Build 2 colonies. Because the central square usually produces only 2 food units, you'd have to use one of the colonists as a farmer instead of doing something useful. He wouldn't be able to produce much more than he has to eat anyway, as he's a non-expert working on a non-plowed and probably forest terrain. The second colony, meanwhile, can start (slowly) building up or produce liberty bells, plus it will accumulate a raw material which can be sold in Europe.
Using the pioneer for felling trees, plowing and building roads will be a good idea as soon as you have some 5 colonists in the New World. Your priority should be deforesting colony square (usually +1 food, and free product changed from furs to something more valuable like cotton, sugar or ore), plowing or building a road on each used square (+1 food/product, +2 lumber/furs, but everything except food and lumber gets twice the bonus if used by a specialist), plowing each colony's central square (+1 food) and after that building roads between close colonies (distance 3-6, big projects should wait).
Optionally, you can use the soldier for a quick attack. If someone else's colony is very close to you, and is undefended, think about getting 50 horses, equipping a Dragoon, and attacking him. This is a risky strategy. Its point is not so much the value of what you just conquered as significantly weakening one of the other powers and giving you room to expand plus distance from their center of activity. By hurting computer players you delay their development by many years. Just from losing a single population 2 colony in early 1500s, they may in year 1620 have only as much as they'd otherwise have already achieved by 1600.
Buy some horses in Europe and get 2 horses in each of your colonies. They will then multiply on their own. Production per turn is going to be pretty low, but you will have a lot of them by the time you need them.
Keep food, lumber, guns, tools and horses. Sell everything else immediately, including ore (it's much more expensive than tools at this point, so it's counterproductive to process it). Later you may also start selling horses, if you have too many.
Starting ore mining early is a good idea. At first you can sell the ore, while later you will convert it to tools, and in the late game to guns.
The map generator is quite poor. Playing in America or some other hand-made map is usually a lot more fun than relying on the generator.
Selecting either wet or arid in customize doesn't seem to affect the number of rivers.
Large landmass + continents + temperate + normal gets you as close to an America-like map as you can get from the generator, but still has too small a landmass and is too islandy.
With large landmass or America the land won't be important enough to start wars for. Vast areas of it will still be uninhabited by the time you reach independence.